A Strategy for Conservative Renewal│ Angus Gillan
We know we must rebuild the Conservative grassroots. The question is how?
As I write, the Conservatives face an issue of identity. Lord Feldman’s Party Review stated that “the Party does not tend to talk enough about values or use these to encourage membership”. As a young Conservative often, I hear the line on how we must have a ‘Conservative Renaissance’ to combat Corbynism and remain in Government. However, as a Conservative student the idea that we know we must engage with the youth, but are unsure how to, is a source of concern. The following is a twofold plan for how I would rejuvenate the Conservative membership. It is possible to revive activism, broaden our national support, and thus electoral foundations.
On the 9th March 2018 at the University of Birmingham Jacob Rees-Mogg’s defined Conservatism as “Preserving what is good; not preserving everything”. This can act as a preliminary guide to broadening appeal. The critical detail is that Conservatives must answer the question, we preserve what is good… but to what end? I state we follow the advice of Simon Sinek, who articulates in his TED Talk, and bestselling book ‘Start with Why’, that to achieve and hold success you must have a reason to exist. To summarise “it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters why you do it”. The Conservative Party must provide a vision for people to buy into. What is our reason to exist as a party of governance? ‘Why’ we exist is to drive aspiration as the party that cares not where you came from, but rather where you are going.
What action should the Conservatives take?
Demos’ ‘Optimism Project’ shows we face a scarcity of positivity nationally. A solution is the creation of regional and localised ‘Policy Festivals’, such an example is ‘The Big Tent’. By diversifying our discussions, the chance to lead a national project that revolutionises grassroots politics and reclaims the centre ground arises. Is this easier said than done? Initially a base template is provided to designated/interested organisers. The regional authorities/figures, local associations, charities, universities, activists, and businesses are brought together. Localised ‘festivals’, that discuss national and regional issues will engage people in the ‘bigger picture’, but more importantly illustrate how work in the community affects the nation. This upholds a core Conservative belief of responsibility and aspiration for individuals and communities. Events such as this put the spotlight on how a region plays its part in national prosperity and how communities benefit from Conservative policy. We thus empower communities and highlight Conservative success. This also increases media coverage, captivating news sources such as local papers, regional news forums, relating our work relate to ordinary people’s lives.
Secondly, a formal speakers circuit must be established to directly challenge left wing thought on University campuses. These are immensely popular, Rees-Mogg drew a crowd of circa 300 at the University of Birmingham. If we link with University Societies, who facilitate logistical planning, we break the status-quo of leaving student groups to fend for themselves. This work will amplify the profile of University Conservatives, improving their reach and making them part of the Party, tackling the issue that many see politics as London centric.
No ifs no buts, embracing digital is also a necessity. Personal/group podcasts and microblogs are a highly accessible media; many commentators are utilising them e.g. Sam Harris, Ben Shapiro, David Axelrod, and Jordan Peterson. Yet, British MPs have not quite utilised the opportunity here to provide easily digestible information to readers in our fast-moving world.
Free internships are another winner. I propose we endeavour to have more people host interns, for one week, in either Westminster or Constituency offices. Rebranded as ‘Renewal Internships’ we create an affordable and recognisable program of supporting younger generations, bridging the divide between politics and people.
Crucially, following the announcement of Conservative Policy Forum (CPF) ‘Champions’, the Conservatives have a window of opportunity to transform how grassroots activism feeds national politics. The Champions illustrate the first steps to showcasing the diversity of Conservatism and the desire to reach demographics traditionally less inclined to vote Conservative. Therefore, a greater youth presence at CPF meetings is required. A couple of weeks into an academic year regional CPFs must host an event on a university campus to meet Conservatives and invite students to attend CPFs. Events should also be clearly advertised to local employers that have apprentices. If the Conservatives can increase the connection between young people and local associations then CPF will ensure new generations feel part of the Party’s structure. Campus events start the ball rolling in terms of youth attendance. The fact is students are motivated to join societies, and membership is retained, if they are active; therefore, having the opportunity of being involved with the national Party will likely captivate people.
By Angus Gillan
Angus was a 2018 Council Candidate for Bournbrook and Selly Park in Birmingham. He is a final year Ancient History student at the University of Birmingham, where he is senior educational Representative for the College of Arts and Law. He has co-hosted Friday Night Politics on BurnFM and been a commentator on Just Debate on Wizard Radio. His previous work includes Secretary General of the United Nations Society and Digital Marketing at L’Oréal Paris following winning Male Undergraduate of the Year 2017.